Study Links Traumatic Brain Injuries to Increased Risk of Stroke

Patients who suffer more TBIs face a higher risk of stroke later in life, and those strokes are likely to be more severe than those who did not suffer head injuries.

Suffering a concussion or injury to the head increases a person’s risk of having a stroke later in life, according to the findings of a new study.

A traumatic brain injury(TBI) can occur when a person suffers an impact to the head. These can include a typical concussion and more severe injuries to the head sustained during sports activities or car accidents, and research has linked side effects of TBIs to a myriad of long-term health injuries, including behavioral disorders and depression, as well as an increased risk of early death.

In a new study published this month in the medical journal Stroke, researchers with the University of Pennsylvania report that individuals who suffered a TBI faced a 34% increased risk of having a stroke within 10 years after the injury.

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TBIs Linked to Increased Stroke Risks

The findings point to a link between brain injuries and stroke risks, which can result in long-term impairments or permanent injuries, including difficulty grasping objects, trouble speaking, trouble understanding others, slurring words, difficulty walking, long-term paralysis, and vision problems.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on nearly 13,000 adults who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study from 1987 to 1989. They suffered no prior head injury or stroke. Patients were followed until 2019.

A total of 2,100 patients suffered at least one head injury during the follow-up period. Researchers tracked self-reported injuries and confirmed those injuries with hospital diagnostic codes.

Among the patients who suffered a traumatic brain injury, more than 1,140 later suffered an ischemic stroke during the follow-up period. The researchers determined that patients who suffered a TBI were 34% more likely to suffer a stroke later in life than those who did not.

The average time to stroke after suffering a TBI was 7.5 years, although some patients suffered a stroke later. Researchers determined there is a dose-response connection between the number of head injuries and stroke risk. This means the more head injuries suffered, the higher one’s risk of stroke.

The same was not true for the severity of the TBI. So, a person suffering a typical concussion and someone suffering a severe TBI face a similar risk of stroke later, the researchers found. However, those who suffered head injuries suffered more severe strokes than people who did not suffer head injuries.

“In this community-based cohort, head injury was associated with subsequent ischemic stroke,” the researchers concluded. “These results suggest the importance of public health interventions aimed at preventing head injuries and primary stroke prevention among individuals with prior traumatic brain injuries.”

Researchers recommend community programs focused on helmet wearing, safe driving, sports safety, and other measures to reduce the number and severity of head injuries.

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